Saturday, March 30, 2013

Spring Sprung

By Cory Ritter

Whitefish has nearly gone full circle since I last posted. Dominated by wind and snow, Whitefish resembled the Hoth system more than a raptor migration hotspot. In fact, I was counting an average of fewer than ten raptors per day, and the songbirds were nearly non-existent.
Pine Grosbeak, Whitefish Point, 3/18/2013, one of the relatively few seen before a group of 57 were spotted on the 27th

Warming up a bit...

Ahh... Maximum insulation
Common Redpoll, Whitefish Point, 3/25/2013, increasing in numbers over the past 10 days

Common Redpoll, Whitefish Point, 3/25/2013
However, that all changed on Thursday and Friday. The sun was out, snow was melting, and birds were flying. It was glorious. While the season total for raptors after Wednesday sat at a modest 111, the 45 on Thursday and 50 for Friday quickly brought that up to a respectable 206. So, nearly doubling the count in two days provided some welcomed excitement. And as if that wasn't enough, Pine Siskins, Red Crossbills, Snow Buntings, American Robins, and Sandhill Cranes jumped into the mix over the past couple days.

During this push of raptors, Bald Eagle was clearly the dominant species, accounting for 68 of the 95 raptors counted Thursday and Friday. Nevertheless, there were many other highlights including a kettle of goshawks and the arrival of two new species--Red-shouldered Hawk and Turkey Vulture.

One of the many adult Bald Eagles passing by Whitefish this season, 3/26/2013

Bald Eagle staring contest...and...GO

Northern Goshawk, Whitefish Point, 3/28/2013

Northern Goshawk, Whitefish Point, 3/28/2013

Adult Red-tailed Hawk, Whitefish Point, 3/29/2013

Though first-spring may have been short-lived here at Whitefish, as a front is moving through this weekend. It will be bringing rain and snow, and leaving behind colder, sub-freezing temperatures. Hopefully the birds will not retreat in the face of this 'indian-winter', and hopefully spring will soon return once again.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

More Winter in Whitefish

By Cory Ritter

This is the forecast for Whitefish Point from Monday night, and it hasn't let us down yet. We had about about 6 inches over Monday night and Tuesday, and there is more on the way!

One can't complain about this weather too much when at a hawk count site, because it is often associated with charismatic birds. And, this time is no exception. While we were limited to three species for the first three days of the count (Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, and Red-tailed Hawk), Monday brought the fourth.
Northern Goshawk, Whitefish Point, MI, 3/18/2013
Northern Goshawk, Whitefish Point, MI, 3/18/2013
Out of focus, but one of the only head-on shots, 3/18/2013
Tuesday wasn't quite as nice as Monday. I awoke to a heavy snow that would deter most from trudging up to the count platform. However, I've learned from some of the best that it has to be some really bad weather to stop all of the birds. So, I headed up to the platform during the peak hours, in the heavy snow, to see what was flying.
Keeping warm and stopping the snow from jabbing me in the eye
As one would expect, there were no signs of life. It was 45 minutes before I saw my first bird--a single Common Raven. So, I stood and searched through my snow covered bins in vain.

Whup..whats that..

My fruitless efforts were no more, as a pair of Golden Eagles became visible off in the distance through the thick snow. I thought my day might just be turning around considering I just came across a new season high golden count; however, the birds we gone as quickly as they had appeared, and just then, the snow picked up. I waited in solitude for another bird to appear, but even the lone raven was nowhere to be seen. As it became near white-out conditions, I decided to head down and try my luck tomorrow.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Return to Whitefish

By Cory Ritter

This is my first post in...a really long time, and there is good reason for it. I'm back in Whitefish Point for my second season as the spring hawk counter!

The weather this year couldn't be more different from the last. I arrived to a virtually snow-less point last March with temperatures in the 60s and 70s. It was really quite the welcome to the Upper Peninsula. However, just as I had suspected, it was all part of some twisted conspiracy to influence me to come back another season. And it worked! I have come back for my second season, and this time I have been welcomed by snow, frigid temperatures, and unrelenting winds. The roughly three feet of snow on the ground (and the hawk platform walkway) must not have been enough because it has snowed an additional 8+ inches since I arrived.
The view towards the Northeast from the count platform, 3/15/2013
One of the few birds at the feeders behind the gift shop, 3/15/2013
 On the bright side, the snow cover should help light up those birds and make for some great (decent) photography. Oh, and I'll be able to put my new cross-country skis to good use!

Moving right along, the season started on Friday the 15th. I haven't been too surprised by the fact that the first two days have been quite slow. Ten raptors flew by on Friday and just six on Saturday. Bald Eagles have made up  the bulk of the count with seven on Friday and four on Saturday, but I've also seen two Red-tailed Hawks and one Golden Eagle to keep things interesting.
Probably the closest raptor of the season, this young Bald Eagle flew by on March 16, 2013
Last year, the winter finches were around by the hundreds right at the beginning of the season; however, it appears  many still have yet to make their way back through Whitefish this season, as I have only seen a flock of about twenty to twenty-five Common Redpolls and a group of roughly ten Pine Grosbeaks thus far.
Just as I was, this Common Redpoll is staying warm in the snow, 3/15/2013
It is clearly early in the season, and things will surely pick up as time goes on. I'm sure you're just as interested to see how things unfold up here at Whitefish Point after a more normal winter, so don't forget to keep checking back throughout the season!